Last week, the Verizon IndyCar Series lost a member of their family that most of us had never heard of. Jenny Nickell was a producer for NBCSN and had worked in the business of televising IndyCar races for over thirty years. Apparently, she suddenly fell ill in Toronto last weekend and passed away Tuesday morning. I never met Jenny, and to be honest – I had never heard of her. Chances are, most of you reading this had not heard of her until news of her death hit social media last Tuesday.
What impressed me was the massive outpouring of affection from all corners of the IndyCar world – not just those on the television side or even the media side of things, but from all segments of the series. Paul Page wrote a nice piece about her on Facebook. Robin Miller wrote an excellent article about his longtime friend on Racer.com. Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt were both longtime friends of hers. Practically every IndyCar person I follow on social media had wonderful things to say about her and how crushed they were at her loss.
I am an outsider to the IndyCar “family”. I know many of them and they speak to me very cordially when they see me at races. I am Facebook friends with some of them and I even carry on regular e-mail exchanges throughout the year with a few of them – some of the e-mails are not even about racing. But I am not one of them. I don’t earn my living covering the series and I only attend a handful of races per year. That doesn’t bother me in the least. I never expected to be one of them.
It was early on in my blogging “career” that I noticed the strong bond that existed between the close-knit IndyCar family. The family extends well beyond actual IndyCar employees. It includes drivers, crew-members, team owners, team PR personnel, manufacturer’s representatives and all facets of the regular media who attend every race and weekly press conference.
And why wouldn’t they have a strong bond. During the racing season, this group sees each other more than their real families back home. Each and every race weekend, they all descend on each respective venue usually on Thursday (or sooner) and sometimes stay until Sunday night or Monday. On consecutive race weekends, they are home for a couple of nights while working the respective jobs during the day; before it’s back at it again on Thursday.
It’s an overused comparison, but it really is like a modern day travelling circus. It’s mind-boggling to think about the number of on-site people it actually takes to stage an IndyCar race. There is no telling how many support people go to each race throughout a given IndyCar season. Each car has a team of probably ten to twelve people assigned to that one car. If that car is a multi-car team, there are many people connected with the team, but not to a specific car. Then there is the Holmatro Safety Team and assorted medical personnel that travel around with the series.
There are the IndyCar employees. There’s the Executive Team which includes CEO Mark Miles and President Jay Frye among others. Most, if not all, of the Communications staff goes to every race. I’m sure the same applies to the Competition and Operations teams.
Don’t forget all of the mobile hospitality suites that travel around with their respective catering staffs. Also there is the Indy Racing Experience, which handles the IndyCar two-seater program. Not only do they service the two-seater you see at the start of every race, but there are at least a couple of other two-seaters giving rides throughout the weekend, whenever the track isn’t busy. They usually bring a good size crew to service those cars on any given weekend.
Then there is the media. For most weekends, it is the NBCSN crew that you see on screen every weekend, plus many, many more working behind the scenes that you never see or hear about. That was where Jenny Nickell was – in the production truck, directing her pit-reporters.
I’m guessing, but I would bet there are at least seventy-five network TV personnel on-site at every race. That includes on-screen talent and their direct assistants, to the camera operators and the crew in the production truck, all the way to those that run cables every week. It’s daunting to think about.
Add to that the radio and print media that cover each race. The Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network brings their share of employees to each track. Then there’s the Curt Cavins and Robin Millers of the world, who are constants at practically every track representing print and digital media.
As you can see, the IndyCar family that travels to every race is huge. But given the amount of people that travel to each race, they all seem to know each other. More importantly, they all seem to like and genuinely care for each other.
The Saturday night before the Road America race, Susan and I were leaving the famous Siebkens Resort in Elkhart Lake, where we had just eaten dinner. On the sidewalk outside the restaurant was a nice area, where we ran into some friends of ours gathered together with others from within the IndyCar family. It was a mixture of TV folks, print media types and a couple of former drivers. As we stood and talked to a couple of them, you could tell everyone there was genuinely enjoying each other’s company.
Although it was tempting to hang around to hear some of their stories, I did not want to intrude. Most of them didn’t know us from Adam and we would have cramped their style.
When we go to races, I am amazed at how friendly and welcoming the IndyCar family is to a lowly blogger. I’ve always said that the IndyCar Communications staff treats Susan and me as if we are just as important as someone with ESPN. From the time I covered my first race at Barber in 2010, to last month’s race at Road America – we’ve always felt welcomed by all of the IndyCar staff and most of our fellow inhabitants of each media center.
Maybe it’s because I know my place and I don’t pretend to be a member of the IndyCar family. Going to just a handful of races each season qualifies me to be a friendly outsider, and that’s the way it should be.
I won’t pretend that I knew Jenny Nickell. I didn’t. But a lot of people that you and I are acquainted with knew her, and they are hurting right now. They should be. They’ve lost a member of the family.